THE unity of the struggles of workers and youth across the USA was expressed last Friday in May Day demonstrations and rallies across the country centring on the demand for an end to low pay and for improved working conditions coming together with the demand for an end to police oppression and racism.
Thousands of workers and young people marched under the banners of the ‘black lives matter’ campaign joining with trade unionists and low paid workers marching for the demand of a $15 an hour minimum wage and an end to the laws that permit the rich to avoid paying taxes on their wealth.
In New York, two protests, the trade union organised May Day Parade and Rally and a demonstration by the organisation ‘Disarm NYPD’ (New York Police Department), converged in a powerful demonstration of solidarity with placards reading ‘Women need jobs with a liveable wage, not police terror’.
While some of the demonstrators who gathered in Union Square were celebrating the decision that day to arrest and prosecute six Baltimore police officers for the wrongful death of Freddie Gray – killed while in the back of a police van – the mistrust of the police and the law was much in evidence.
One protester explained to the press: ‘I have mixed emotions about it because it has happened in the past but the police still got off. Unless all six of them go to jail, justice will not be served.’
Union members spoke out about police brutality saying they were attending to stand in solidarity with Freddie Gray.
Priscilla Castillo a 23-year-old member of Union DC 37 (New York City’s largest public employees union) said ‘I am here for Freddie Gray and for everyone who has been killed from police brutality, racism and anything inhumane.’
Oliver Gray, associate director of Union DC347, holding a ‘Black Lives Matter’ placard, told reporters, ‘Stop the carnage that is going on in the streets of this country. We’ve had enough.’
The solidarity between the unions, low-paid workers and the Black Lives Matter struggle was underlined by one of its organisers Sabaah Jordan, who told the press:
‘The thing about racial justice, and the reason that the movement has space for the fight for a 15-dollar minimum wage and workplace issues is that we’re all people, and this is a people problem.’
She continued: ‘Black people are workers too, and the racism and injustice that we see in the police we have to deal with in the workplace too. When we say “black lives matter”, we’re really addressing justice, not just with police. Racial exploitation is a critical issue, and confronting it is really creating a society for everyone. “Black lives matter” is a sweeping statement.’
The solidarity of the working class in struggle across the world was evident in New York on May Day as artists and students gathered at the world famous Guggenheim museum to occupy it in protest against the brutal working conditions imposed on workers in Abu Dhabi.
The Guggenheim. which is planning to open an annex to the museum in Abu Dhabi, was forced to close its doors as a result of the demonstration and occupation.
Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) and their supporters are demanding improved conditions for workers at the project, in particular they are campaigning against workers being forced to pay recruitment fees to work on the development at Saadiyat Island.
Noah Fischer, from G.U.L.F. and Occupy Museums, said May Day events were helpful to ‘connect the dots’ between local and foreign labour issues. ‘It’s an opportunity to highlight migrant labour issues, and it’s a symbolic day of labour struggle,’ he said. ‘We’re bringing it home to the museum, because they’re a player in the picture.’
Andrew Ross, a NYU professor and part of G.U.L.F. and Gulf Labor, has been banned from entering the United Arab Emirates because of his involvement with the movement.
He told the press that Friday’s action, the fifth inside the museum, was part of the group’s escalating campaign. ‘Basically, it’s been five years of inaction on the museum’s part. Five years and nothing concrete has been done, except for the tarnishing of the museum’s reputation’.
In Buffalo City, in New York State, a city with a long tradition of trade union organisation, hundreds of union members and supporters cheered as national AFL-CIO Vice President Tafare Gebre urged them to stand together and fight for their rights.
Gebre said, ‘Workers in this world are marching around the streets, saying, “Enough is enough,”’ and asked if the crowd in Niagara Square stood with them.
An overwhelming chanting from the crowd emphatically told him they did.
Gebre said workers must demand action from elected officials, and pointed out that wages across the spectrum of jobs need to be raised.
‘We need to raise the minimum wage, but we need to raise wages for all 90% of American workers who toil in our schools every day, who toil in our hospitals every day, who build our roads, who help the sick, who put out the fires,’ said Gebre.
‘They are coming together and saying, “I want to raise wages.”’
Gebre noted that the plight of immigrant workers and the high rate of incarceration rather than education are obstacles to raising the minimum wage.
Looking to the federal and international arena, Gebre told the crowd that President Barack Obama could not be more wrong than in his stance on international trade, namely the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Gebre said American workers want and support trade, but only if it lifts them up. He noted that Buffalo’s steel workers have lived through the hardships of previous international trade agreements, which he said failed to live up to their promises.
Gebre said it is time Obama listened to his national base, and ended the fight for fast track negotiating authority.
While these marches and protests went off relatively peacefully, the May Day march in Seattle turned violent when police attacked demonstrators with pepper spray and flash grenades.
In the city, the annual May Day march like all the others focused on low pay and the plight of immigrant workers and against police violence.
The police attack took place after the main march had passed, with them claiming that the police had come under attack themselves by anti-capitalist protesters throwing ‘items’ at them.
In San Francisco, the longshore union, ILWU Local 10, came out on May Day and stopped work in the Bay Area ports, bringing them to a standstill, over the police killings.
Their strike was followed by a march from the Port of Oakland to Oakland City Hall to protest ‘the recent escalation in police brutality throughout the US that has resulted in the needless killing of innocent and unarmed minorities.’
The mood of the longshoremen, whose union has a long and proud record of fighting on questions of social justice and opposition to imperialist war, was summed up in an article written for May Day by a retired Oakland docker, Jack Heyman, who wrote:
‘On May Day in 2008, the ILWU shut down every port on the West Coast to oppose the war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Today we must act to stop the plague of police violence at home. Join us.’
This militancy and determination to fight is evident throughout the entire American working class and youth as the world crisis of capitalism is producing a revolutionary movement of the people that is coming head on into conflict with the ruling class and its repressive state apparatus.